Extent of damage to Okanagan cherry buds revealed as blossom season arrives

It was feared to be bad, but now the extent of damage inflicted by this winter’s extreme cold on cherry buds has become apparent.

“It’s a disaster … this is the worst I’ve ever seen,” said cherry grower and president of the B.C. Cherry Association, Sukhpaul Bal.

At this time of year, cherry trees are typically in bloom, but this year there are very few blossoms, if any at all.

“Everywhere along the branch nothing has opened up, so there will be no fruit here, no fruit there,” said Bal as he pointed to a branch on one of his cherry trees  at his Kelowna orchard.

Bal has 85 acres of cherry trees at his Hillcrest Cherries orchard — but this year, those trees won’t be producing a harvest.

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“We will not have a cherry crop this year on our farm, and many farmers are in that same position,” Bal said.

That includes Deep Brar, who has about 100 acres of cherries at his Summerland orchard.

“In this block we will have to the point where we have to make a decision of do we even worry about it or just abandon it,” Brar told Global News.

But Brar said abandoning a crop is costly. Not only does it not yield an income, but there’s a price to maintaining it.

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“We still have to spend all the money because I’ve heard people tell me like, oh, you got a summer off. That’s not how it works. We still have to go through and spray and do everything. We just won’t harvest.”

Click to play video: 'Okanagan cherry growers predicting drastic reduction in 2024 crop'

Okanagan cherry growers predicting drastic reduction in 2024 crop

Bal said that in mid-March, B.C.’s agriculture minister visited his orchard to have a look and discuss the tough situation growers find themselves in.

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At that time, he requested emergency funding to help soften the blow but to date, there has been no such relief offered.

“This is the fifth really bad year and previous to that, we hadn’t been knocking on government doors saying, hey, we need immediate help, Bal said. “This was kind of the last straw that we could not get through this season without some additional support.”

Bal added that the current programs in place are not designed to support farmers year after year dealing with extreme weather events.

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“The programs didn’t factor in five consecutive extreme events,” Bal said. “It’s not designed to keep it at a high level. It does start to diminish the coverage because you’re producing less fruit and it’s kind of a down downhill path.”

In an email to Global News, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food stated that in March it announced a historic $70-million investment to help B.C. fruit and grape growers replace damaged crops by replanting hardier, climate-resilient varieties that produce in-demand, premium fruit, adding that this investment will help many cherry growers.

Bal said the replant money doesn’t address the immediate situation and added that replanting healthy trees bred for the Okanagan climate doesn’t make sense.

He’s hoping the province comes through with emergency relief and so does Brar.

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“If we can get some funding this year to get through this year, we can always make it go next year,” Brar said. “You know the growers always believe in next year.”

Click to play video: 'Winter cold spell cuts B.C.’s grape crop by up to 56 per cent'

Winter cold spell cuts B.C.’s grape crop by up to 56 per cent

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